Student Interview

Interview with a German Gymnasium (High School) Student

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing the younger sister of a classmate who I have become friends with since beginning my language course here in Heidelberg. It took a considerable amount of time to find someone who would be suitable for the interview, but her older brother Thomas (Tom) agreed to introduce me and serve as a translator if needed (which he was). Her name is Karolin Weber, and she is a 19 year old at the tail end of her studies at Gymnasium, preparing for the extremely important Abitur exam which is just over the horizon. She speaks english quite well, but I insisted that she let me conduct the interview in German for the sake of authenticity.

The english translation of our interview is as follows:

Which school do you attend?

I study at the Kurfürst-Friedrich-Gymnasium. We call it KFG for short.

Is that close by?

Yes it’s here in Heidelberg near Bismarckplatz.

How long have you been studying there?

8 years. I entered the school when I was 11 years old, and now I now I am nearly finished.

So you’re 19 years old?

Yes. I turn 20 in November.

How long is your average day at school?

My classes start at 08:00 (8:00 am) and end between 16:00 and 17:00 (4:00 pm – 5:00 pm)

Is it hard to believe that you are almost finished with Gymnasium?

No, not really. It has gone very fast, but very slow too. I am definitely ready to move on to University.

What are you studying now, and what would you like to study in University?

I’m studying engineering, and will do the same in University. I want to be a mechanical engineer.

Why engineering?

It has always fascinated me, and my father was an engineer. It seems like a good profession which will be useful and practical in the future.

Are you nervous for the Abitur?

I used to be very nervous about it, but now I am just ready to get it over with so I can move on.

What are the teachers like in your school?

Most of my teachers are nice people, but some are very intense. I used to be scared of a male teacher who would yell at students when they goofed around.

Outside of school, how do you like to spend your time? Do you have any hobbies?

I really like to travel in Europe. I have friends in many of the countries around Germany, and I like to visit them when I have time. I like to make music with my friends a lot.

You play music? Any specific instrument or genre?

Yes I play the acoustic guitar and some keyboard. I like to play folk-style music and also electronic.

Are those the genres that you like to listen to as well? What are some of your favorite bands or musicians?

I like to listen to many different genres. Some of my favorite musicians are Ed Sheeran, Bob Dylan, Tiësto, Radiohead, and Drake.

Wow, that’s quite the variety of music taste. No German bands or musicians?

No not really. Most of my favorite artists are from the U.S. and Canada.

I’ve noticed that many Germans listen to music from North America. Why do you think that is?

I don’t know. I don’t think there are a lot of great modern German musicians for some reason. If you like classical music, we have a lot to offer, but that’s not really what I enjoy.

Do you like to watch or play any sports?

I like to watch people play tennis sometimes, but I think football (soccer) is my favorite. I go to a lot of matches in Stuttgart with my friends.

What is your family history?

My father moved to Germany from Brazil when he was 24 years old, and met my mother a few years later. She was born and raised in Mannheim. My dad speaks fluent Spanish and German, and my mom can speak English very well.

So you’re half Brazilian, half German? Have you ever had the chance to visit Brazil or anywhere in South America?

Yes and yes. When I was 12, we took a family vacation to Rio de Janeiro. It was amazing there. I remember it was very hot and the food was amazing. The beaches there were beautiful.

How many languages do you speak?

I can speak German, French and Spanish fluently, and my English is getting pretty good.

I’ve noticed that Europeans tend to speak several languages, especially in The Netherlands where many people spoke Dutch, English, German, and French. Americans tend to stick with English. Why do you think that is?

I think there are many reasons. Here in Germany, we are so close to other countries which often speak different languages, so it is important to understand how to communicate when not in your home country. Americans don’t really need to know more than English, except maybe Spanish.

Do you think that it’s valuable to learn other languages?

Yes of course. Every new language that you learn opens up a new way of seeing the world. Being able to communicate with people from other countries in their language is really helpful. I wouldn’t enjoy traveling to France as much if my French wasn’t so good.

Switching topics, what are some of your favorite German foods?

I really like käsespätzle even though it’s not very good for you. I’ve liked it since I was a kid. I like bratwurst too, although not as much as the rest of my family.

Do you like sauerkraut?

No! I don’t understand the love behind sauerkraut! It is rather sacrilegious to say this as a German, but I don’t care. I don’t like the flavor.

What about pretzels?

Pretzels are delicious. I could eat them every day, but I shouldn’t.

Do you have any favorite films or television shows?

I really like T.V. shows, but I’m not very into film. Some of my favorite shows are Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Family Guy, and Hannibal. I like to watch them in English with German or Spanish subtitles to help learn the language.

Does that strategy work?

Yes! You learn without really having to think.

I notice a lot of tourists from all over the world in the Altstadt. What are some stereotypes of Americans?

I think that Americans tend to be loud and outspoken. They aren’t afraid to say exactly what they want, and like to ask things like “how are you doing?” to complete strangers.

Have you ever been to the United States?

I was in the New York once when I was young. I don’t really remember it though.

Would you like to go back some day?

Yes absolutely. I really want to see Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon. I want to try American Barbecue.

Anything you want to say to the German class who will be reading this?

Come to Germany if you get the chance! We’re quite nice here, despite the stereotypes about Germans. I hope you enjoy learning the language and can put it to use in the future.

Talking to Karolin was an absolute blast, and it was very interesting to learn the perspective of a younger student who has lived here her whole life. I was very glad to have Tom with us, as he helped clear things up when Karolin and I got stuck. The translation in this transcript was done with the help of Tom and Karolin to ensure that I wrote exactly what she meant to say.


I’ve always loved Amsterdam. The city has long since been one of my favorites within Europe, holding a special place in my heart throughout my life. Since it had been at least four years since my last visit, I decided rather quickly after moving to Heidelberg that I would book an overnight trip and let myself experience the city with a fresh perspective. The last time that I was here, it was during the summer of my Sophomore year at Hanford High School, and I’m now nearing graduation from University. It’s simply unbelievable how quickly time flies.

Amsterdam is a city that is truly unlike any others in the world, guaranteeing a unique experience with every visit. There is a palpable energy to be felt throughout the city, especially within the Dutch citizens who live here. Most are at the very least bilingual, fluent in both English and Dutch, but it is not uncommon to meet people who are competent in German and French as well. They are a friendly and open people, perfectly willing to strike up a conversation with a random traveler and share stories/ give advice. Being here as I am now, nearly 23 years old and with a much different outlook on life than my 17 year old self, I have immensely enjoyed my short period of exploration, relaxation, excellent meals, and wonderful discoveries.

After having made plans for the trip long in advance, the FlixBus threw a last minute curveball at me. On the night of my departure from Heidelberg, the bus was supposed to leave the Hauptbahnhof at 5 p.m., getting me into Amsterdam by midnight. I received notice early in the day that the bus was delayed on its way to Heidelberg and wouldn’t be leaving until 9 p.m., meaning that the trip would be an over-nighter, and I would arrive in Amsterdam at dawn. This was enough for my travel buddy to back out of his plans for coming along, but I was no so easily discouraged. I knew that I could meet people once I arrived and had some time to explore, and I challenged myself to make the trip solo. It would be a great experience, and although I only knew the basics of the city layout/ transit systems, etc., I knew I could figure it out in the end. I find that adaptivity and flexibility are among the most critical skills to have while traveling abroad. Being able to go with the flow and change plans at the last minute without racking stress on yourself will make for the best possible use of your time abroad. You’ll thank yourself later.

My Amsterdam-bound FlixBus pulls into the Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof after hours of delays
Crossing the border from Germany into The Netherlands


FlixBus arriving at Sloterdijk (train terminal) at dawn

I finally arrived in Sloterdijk on the west end of Amsterdam just as the sun had fully revealed itself for the day. I made my way through the quiet, empty morning streets and to my hotel where I would check in for a few more hours of sleep (I managed to sleep quite a bit on the bus, although it was not the most comfortable situation). I had booked a stay at CityHub Amsterdam, a hostel/hotel for the tech-savvy traveller. This place was more interesting than I could have imagined, but I was too tired at the moment to soak it all in, so I climbed up into the bed and went back to sleep until 8 a.m.

The front of my hotel, CityHub
Interior hallway of CityHub
The layout of a ‘pod’ with a separate room on each side

I felt a joy when my alarm went off (possibly the first time that sentence has been written), as it meant I was ready to begin my day in this amazing city. I got ready and packed my backpack for the trip, then left the hotel and jumped on a tram to Amsterdam Centraal.

Arriving at Amsterdam Centraal
Amsterdam Centraal is the gateway to the city for the majority of visitors
Sint-Nicolaaskerk (Church of St. Nicholas) from Stationsplein
The Park Plaza Victoria Hotel from Stationsplein

I was finally back in the heart of the city. This famous square outside of Amsterdam Centraal is called Stationsplein, and has been featured in countless films and television shows. It was also the first time on the trip that I knew exactly where I was. My ‘sense of place’ was forming rapidly, and I became even more excited to see all that I could see during my day here. There seemed no better way to head than south on Damrak Straat (toward Dam Square, the historical center of the city). Amsterdam is a lot like the Las Vegas of Europe, although with a much richer history, more inspiring architecture, better food, and cooler climate. Essentially, it’s my kind of town.

Casino on Damrak Straat
Architectural style of Amsterdam
Damrak Straat
Crooked buildings (an Amsterdam staple) on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal
Magna Plaza on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal
Typical Amsterdam apartments

This area which I explored first is known as the Centrum, which is the center of a spiderweb-like series of streets which form the inner city. This district is among the most well known of all within the city, and is home to some of the most famous attractions in Amsterdam, such as the Anne Frank house. The buildings and streets here are off-kilter, giving the district an extremely unique and bizarre feel.

Map of Amsterdam (blue dot is me at my hotel)
Everything is tilted here in the Centrum
Young boy rides a wooden bike in the Centrum
Heineken is brewed in Amsterdam, and the Dutch are very proud of it
Cats and people alike enjoy sitting on the window sills in Amsterdam
A canal lined with boat houses (very common) near the Anne Frank House
Locals ride by the massive queue at the Anne Frank House

By this point, I had been walking for some time, and was growing hungrier by the moment. I knew that I needed to find something to eat, and the famous Amsterdam pancakes seemed like a good place to begin the search. I stumbled across The Pancake Bakery in the centrum, which had a line forming out the door for brunch, which I took to be a good sign. I chatted with a few of the locals while waiting in the queue, asking if this was a good place to have breakfast. They simply laughed and said that I had stumbled upon one of the best breakfasts in the city, which I would go on to confirm by ordering far too much food and watching  as the lobby filled to the brim with people waiting to be seated.

Exterior of The Pancake Bakery
Breakfast of champions in The Pancake Bakery
Classic interior with a great view

After I had sufficiently stuffed myself to the point of near-immobility, I decided it would be a good time to take a long, draining walk to the south side of town, toward the famous museums and parks. The weather was starting to warm up, and I had to shed my jacket. The locals were outside, taking full advantage of the beautiful day.

Tour boat getting ready to leave in a canal
A tour boat passes beneath the bridge that I’m standing on in the Centrum
Boats, bikes, cars, and trams

Amsterdam is nicknamed The Venice of the North, and with its maze-like system of canals and narrow corridors, its not difficult to see why.

Public urinals are very popular in Amsterdam

When taking this picture, an older Dutch couple walked behind me. The woman asked me something in Dutch, to which I replied with an “I’m sorry?”

She switched to English, “Did you just take a picture of that urinal?”


She laughed. “Why?”

I then realized how absurd it must look to see tourists snapping pictures of such things, when you’ve grown up with them and they are commonplace in Amsterdam.

De Krijtberg church in south central Amsterdam
Another view of De Krijtberg – I was having a blast shooting it from different angles
Street advertisements
Angled streets make this photo appear skewed
Locals riding along a canal, enjoying the warm weather
FEBO automat food

FEBO is amazing for when you don’t want any human interaction whatsoever, but have an appetite for something savory. The food options are perfect for late night snacking. You simply decide which item you want, put in the exact amount of coins, and press the button to the right of the window. It pops the cover open, and you can remove your delicious, warm treat from inside. There is a counter where you can purchase fries and drinks, but most of the main courses are found in the automats. I’m going to miss FEBO in Germany and the U.S.

Locals deciding on a snack
Restaurants/bars in Leidseplein, one of my favorite city squares
Can’t escape the King
Local man relaxes on his window sill

At this point, I entered one of the most amazing places in all of Amsterdam. It’s called Vondelpark, and its essentially its own city within the city itself. You could spend an entire day exploring the park, finding new hidden gems throughout. I took a few hours and allowed myself to wander, which turned out to be an excellent way to experience the park. It seemed as though every five minutes I would come across a new, interesting cafe, restaurant, venue, lake, or market. I cannot recommend this park enough.

The southernmost entrance to Vondelpark
Crane in Vondelpark
‘t Blauwe Theehuis in Vondelpark
Locals relaxing by a gazebo in Vondelpark
Different angle on the gazebo
Vondelpark Openluchttheater preparing for a live music show
BBQ master at work
Beautiful scenery just outside Vondelpark

After leaving Vondelpark, I headed toward Museumplein, where some of the most famous museums in the city are located. This is another excellent place to relax and have a picnic or possibly a nap.

Slanted grass area in Museumplein
The Stedelijk Museum from Museumplein
The world-famous Rijksmuseum from Museumplein
Famous I Amsterdam sign with the Rijksmuseum in the background
Typical street corner in Amsterdam West
Floating houses near my hotel

Before I knew it, my time in the city had come and gone, and it was time for me to head to Sloterdijk to get on the FlixBus and head back to Heidelberg. Amsterdam is such a wonderful city, and it pained me to leave, but I know that I will be back one day. It’s a difficult place not to love, and I am very happy that I took a day to have fun in the city.

Sunset over a canal
Nightfall in Amsterdam gives way to a world of neon signs
Nightlife options in Leidseplein
Accidental shot with long shutter rate
Started having fun with long shutter rate
The famous American Hotel

Feeling at Home, Away from Home

Living in Germany has taught me countless lessons, more so as I continue to become a more involved global citizen. Over the course of my capstone assignments, I have been challenged to remain objective and inquisitive, allowing myself to understand the culture as a German citizen does. This week, I stayed within the city limits of Heidelberg (I have more travels planned in the future), further familiarizing myself with the day-to-day lives of the people here. Between my classes, outings with friends, and a viewing party of the Eurovision Song Contest 2017, I experienced a week full of intense language study and hilarious, enlightening moments with friends. As with any standard week, however, Monday comes all too soon, and attending class comes first.

In class with Frau Althaus

By the time I am out of class at 12:30 pm, I have normally worked up quite an appetite, and begin to seek out lunch in the Altstadt. In this old part of the city, there are countless options for quenching one’s hunger (and thirst). Germany is truly an amalgamation of food types, and one can easily spend countless hours hopping from restaurant to restaurant, gorging delicious foods from cultures around the world. Some days, I find myself in the mood for a typical German meal, and make my way to one of many establishments where Wienerschnitzel and Bratwurst are bountiful. Other days, I am hungry for Vietnamese Pho, Korean BBQ, or spicy Indian curry. Nearly every type of food which I had grown accustomed to enjoying in the United States is available here, and usually tastes a bit higher quality and/or more authentic.

IMG_5436 2
Korean beef bulgogi and Banchan (sides) at Gogi Matcha
The Dubliner, a personal favorite for Irish fare

After finding some food for Mittagessen (sometimes before), I enjoy meeting with friends for a cup of coffee at a local café. There are seemingly endless choices for this activity, a favorite of the German people, and choosing a favorite is near impossible. Kaffee is the highest selling drink in all of Germany, placing it above German bier (something which I had a hard time believing at first)! Café Extrablatt has become one of my favorites due to the consistent high quality coffee, location on Hauptstraße, which is perfect for relaxation and people-watching, and its proximity to accessible, reliable wireless internet (something of a rarity here). German culture truly appreciates the opportunity for gathering with friends and enjoying a relaxing cup of coffee while sitting outside in the beautiful weather. As summer comes closer and closer, more people are outside every day taking advantage of the outdoors. I usually find the time to sit among them and enjoy the day-to-day life at a slower pace.

Delivery smart-car for Emma Café, a common sight in Heidelberg
Transit system map

As summer becomes more of a reality with each passing day, the climate in Heidelberg reflects the coming heat. I did some research into the city’s climate, and learned several interesting facts which help explain the seemingly bizarre weather patterns and vegetation here. Primarily, I found that Heidelberg is among the warmest regions in all of Germany. Because of this, plants which are atypical of the central European climate flourish here. Among them are fig and almond trees, as well as the more rare olive trees. Along the Philosophenweg (Philosophers’ Way), opposite the Altstadt across the Neckar, wine-growing was restarted in 2000, in part because of the area’s unusually warm climate. I walk past these wineries every day on the way to class, and can smell the grapes from some distance away. In addition to vegetation, the warm climate allows for a wild population of African rose-ringed parakeets, as well as Siberian swan-geese, which can primarily be seen on the islands of the Neckar near the Bergheim district. Since I live in such close proximity to this area, I see both types of creatures around my dorm on a daily basis.

Sunset from my dorm In Neuenheimer Feld

All in all, living here has taught me so much about experiencing another culture firsthand. I can safely say that each passing day is a gift which opens my eyes to the world from an entirely new perspective. While I was nervous and worried at first, those feelings have been entirely replaced with a newfound admiration for the differences between our culture in the United States and that of Germany. Living abroad has given me the confidence to settle down anywhere and find a place in the culture. Experiencing a place (Heidelberg in my case) not as a tourist, but as a resident, has allowed for me to view the United States from the outside, and reflect on much of what I have grown to believe about Europe. The experience has made me desire to live elsewhere, spend time listening to new languages, meeting the local people, and doing as they do. I believe that this is critical in the process of expanding one’s horizons, and I will never forget the lessons which I learn on a daily basis while living abroad.

A street in Heidelberg’s Bergheim district
A path which I use for morning jogs along the Neckar

I posted a video of a typical walk on Hauptstraße to YouTube, and you can view it here.

In der Nähe: Ladenburg

Last week, I made plans to travel to the nearby town of Ladenburg with my friend Jay Wang, who I met on last week’s trip to Rothenburg and Dinkelsbühl. A mutual friend of ours had told us a little about the town, and suggested it for an easy day-trip. Neither of us had heard of the place (shameful for me as a Geography major), but decided to check it out nonetheless. We decided that we would meet one another in Ladenburg on Saturday morning, as the weather was supposed to clear up nicely, and then make the trip back together. I did some research on the town, finding some very interesting information: Mainly, that its history dates back to Celtic and Roman ages, and its old center dates back to the Late Middle Ages. In the year 40 (yes, you read that correctly) the Romans populated the town as a farmer and military outpost, keeping its original Celtic name: Lopodunum (sea tower). Much more recently, the town was entirely unharmed in the Allied campaign into Germany during the Second World War, so it maintained much of it’s original architectural beauty (similar to Rothenburg and Dinkelsbühl).

Crossing the Neckar river with Schloss Heidelberg in the background

Ladenburg is a small town located in between Heidelberg and Mannheim, a larger city which serves as a regional travel hub for northern Baden-Wurtemmburg. On Saturday morning, I left my flat and headed across the Neckar river to the Hauptbahnhof (Central Railway Station). This was the first time that I would use the Deutsche Bahn, and I was excited to experience this new form of transportation. I’ve always loved trains, having used the Amtrak between Portland and the Tri-Cities on several occasions, as well as Portland’s MAX system on a daily basis for four years. On a separate note, the similarities between Portland’s public transit system and Germany’s are actually quite remarkable. The morning walk across the river to the train station has become something of a morning ritual for me, and I enjoy watching the city wake up around me.

Looking east down the Neckar

I made it to the train station and entered on the north side by a sea of bikes which had been locked up while their owners went separate ways via rail. I walked by a few food stands where the smells of coffee and pastries filled my nostrils (definitely some of the better smells in the Hauptbahnhof). I purchased a ticket at one of the several automated kiosks, continuing onto the main platform where I would find my train. In typical McCade fashion, I had left myself less than two minutes to find and board the train, and was thus in a state of [moderate] panic. Jogging now, I came to platform 5, leapt down the staircase, and found that were two trains waiting to depart (one on either side). Neither had any clear markings as to their destinations. Wanting to avoid boarding the wrong train and ending up in Freiburg, I quickly studied a transit board which had information on train departure times and platforms.

En route to Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof

This is where a hero arrived: A slender-built guy around age 30 with a large beard came up behind me and rattled off a question in German. I replied with: “Entschuldigung, ich spreche nur ein bisschen deutsch,” and he immediately switched to perfect English. He asked which train was heading to Ladenburg, and I had to laugh at the fact that we were in the exact same situation. We boarded the one to our left, and a local could immediately tell that we were confused, so she asked where we were headed. This was in fact the correct train! The two of us found a place to sit down on the upper level just as the train began to slide west out of the station. We talked through the entire [15 minute] ride as the lush green German countryside whizzed by outside the window. He was a British student who lived and studied in Freiburg, working on his Master’s Thesis in biomedicine. He told me that it would be a funny prank if I would take his backpack, throw it on the ground in the lower passenger deck, and yell something along the lines of “BOMB!!!” I told him that it sounded more like a good way to end up in a German prison, and the two of us laughed as the train arrived in Ladenburg.

Train approaching Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof

After going separate ways with my newfound momentary friend (I don’t remember his name, sadly), I made my way east into the old town where stone walls and towers loomed over me. We had chosen a perfect day for the outing, as the weather was in fact gorgeous, and the people of Ladenburg were outside taking full advantage. My friend Jay texted me, saying that he wouldn’t be there for about half an hour, so I took that time to do some personal exploration and photography. When we did meet up, we shopped for fresh food at the local market, had a delicious lunch in the central Marktplatz, and explored the Lobdengau Museum. It was a beautiful day-trip, one which I would do again in a heartbeat and recommend to anyone in the Heidelberg area.

Ladenburg station sign
Entering Ladenburg from the west
The first street through the southeast city gate in Ladenburg
I would name this street: Narrowcurvedstraße
Cathedral spires viewed from the Marktplatz
Fresh produce at the market
Germans love their asparagus
Signs on Hauptstraße near the Ladenburg Marktplatz
Deutcshe hopscotch
City tower (background) and Roman pillar (foreground)
Cathedral spires from about across town
Part of an ancient Celtic statue in the museum
Preserved ancient Celtic key
Model Roman soldier

This guy had a rather serious look on his face.

Roman flag
Ancient well
Model of an Ancient city wall
Shard of glass used in a mosaic
Damaged Human skull
Elongated skull
Preserved human skeleton
Ladenburg station sign taken as I left the town
A shipment of cars passes a heavy industrial area near Mannheim

Rothenburg & Dinkelsbühl

This weekend was extended due to International Workers’ Day (otherwise known as Labor Day), which allowed me to get out of Heidelberg for a little while and travel into Bayern (Bavaria). Having grown up traveling through Europe with my parents and high school students, certain Bavarian cities became favorites over the years, perhaps none more so than the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The walled city is widely known for its well-preserved medieval old town, which has become something of a tourist destination from visitors around the world. Rothenburg is part of the Romantische Straße (Romantic Road), a so-called “theme route” which was thought of and created by travel agents beginning in the early 1950s. At approximately 350 kilometers (220 mi), the road consists of lengthy highway between Würzburg in the north and Füssen in the south. Specifically, the route traverses a majority of land in Bayern and Baden-Württemberg, linking a several picturesque towns, villages, and castles.

Quiet bridge over the Neckar on the morning of my trip
The natural Neckar river (left) and man-made channel (right) for boat passage
Think positive! A good message before leaving
Beautiful morning in Heidelberg as I neared the bus station

I started my Saturday quite early, waking up at 6:00 am to give myself plenty of time. I had signed up for a group excursion which departed at 7:30 am, from a bus station quite some distance from my dorm. I gave myself enough time to have some breakfast and enjoy a brisk walk to the station, which would take some 30 minutes. It was a beautiful morning, and not many people were out as it was the weekend and their time to sleep in. I discovered a side of Heidelberg which I had previously not encountered, as the streets were empty and quiet, save for the occasional morning runner or tram which passed by me. I crossed the narrow bridge from Neuenheimer Feld into the Weststadt, and continued east to where my group was meeting. Universität Heidelberg offers student excursions for very reasonable prices, and I immediately solidified a position on this trip for only 15 euros when I read that the feature of the trip would be Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This small town had captured my imagination as a child, and I had nothing but fond memories of the city walls, medieval architecture, and delicious schneeballen (I’ll come back to that later).

Auto & Technik Museum and IMAX Theater in the town of Sinsheim, en route to Rothenburg
The castle of Waldenburg viewed from an Esso gas station off the Autobahn-6
Hungry for a snack? Taken at the Esso gas station

After meeting up with my group, the bus promptly pulled into the parking lot and opened its doors for us. Climbing on board, I found an open seat near the back and began to settle in for the two hour first leg of the trip. I did not know anyone on the bus, but that would quickly change, as I befriended Jay, a neuroscience student from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and Sofia, a German-born student who had grown up in the U.S. and returned to Heidelberg to study the German language at the University. Jay introduced me to two of his friends, Ben and Erica from New Jersey, and before I knew it, I had a new group of friends with which I could share the experience. We stopped at an Esso gas station near the town of Waldenburg where we had a half hour break, so Jay and I bought some drinks in the store and found a place to sit outside and discuss photography. We swapped camera lenses, practiced German with one another, and shared photos from our journeys so far. I let him know about my travel blog and senior capstone project, and he demanded a link be sent to him. I could already tell that this would be the beginning of a great friendship.

Rothenburg wall viewed from the outside

Reminded me of the anime series Attack on Titan.

Inside the city walls of Rothenburg
Shy and observant local cat in Rothenburg
One of several bridges spanning what used to be a moat
Date of construction on the ‘newer’ southernmost city gate (1586)
Vegetative growth on the city walls (left) and the walking path in the old moat (right)
Interior of the city wall on the southwest side of town
The main street of Rothenburg looking north
The ‘Little Square’ of Rothenburg (Plönlein)

The Little Square reminded me of a movie set, with the odd angles and off-kilter leaning houses.

Interior of St. Jakobskirche in Rothenburg
Interior of St. Jakobskirche
A BMW 3-Series race car in the Rothenburg Marktplatz

There was a car show going on in the Marktplatz, and two of these M3’s were brought in on towing trailers. I couldn’t stop imagining myself driving one on the Autobahn… A man can dream!

Delicious Schneeballen, the staple pastry of Rothenburg

I purchased several of these delicious treats to take home with me. They are made with the extra pie crusts from bakeries, which would otherwise be thrown away at the end of the day. The people of Rothenburg were the first to roll the crusts into a ball, coat them with delicious toppings (z.B. cinnamon/sugar, vanilla, chocolate, peanuts, powdered sugar, etc.), and sell them as new pastries. It certainly payed off, as the delicious treat is now a staple of the city and can be found in nearly every shop.

An impressive owl and her handler near the Rothenburg Marktplatz
Beautiful homes and gardens in Rothenburg
Small building on the interior of the wall
Pedestrian path sign on a Rothenburg wall
Street leading to the eastern wall inside Rothenburg

When we arrived in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, I was struck with the feeling of nostalgia. I vividly remembered climbing the stairs to the city wall as a child, pretending to be a knight of medieval times. I used to jump off the battlements, pretend to shoot arrows through peepholes in the wall, and beg my parents to buy me the ‘cool’ swords and armor on display in the shops. Now, at age 22, the city was thrilling in a different sense. I took my time exploring the city and its maze-like layout, occasionally stumbling upon an area which I had a near photographic memory of. One such place was the Medieval Torture Museum, which is just as grim as it sounds. Inside, archaic devices of pain and suffering cover the walls and display cases. Upon further research, I found that Rothenburg held a special significance for Nazi ideologists during the second World War. For them, it was the perfect example of the German ‘Home Town’, representing all that was quintessentially German. This much is certainly true, as you can tell from the photos. It is perhaps one of the most ‘German’ cities I have had the pleasure of visiting. Throughout the 1930s, the Nazi organization KDF (Kraft durch Freude) [Strength through Joy] organized day trips to Rothenburg ob der Tauber from all across the reich. The more I learn about German culture during WWII, the more fascinated I become with the subject. Rothenburg was one of the only medieval era cities to be nearly entirely unscathed by Allied bombing during its campaign on the European continent. It is therefore one of the most well preserved walled cities in the country.

Arrival at Dinkelsbühl
Exterior wall of Dinkelsbühl
Me inside the city walls on Nördlinger Straße
Nördlinger Straße in Dinkelsbühl with Münster Sankt Georg in the background
A small bridge connects two buildings over a Dinkelsbühl alleyway
A plane passes overhead with a construction crane in the foreground

Part of me wanted to climb the crane for a spectacular view and photo opportunity. A larger part of me did not want to be arrested by the Polizei and/or fall to my death.

Münster Sankt Georg from the entrance square of Dinkelsbühl
A street along the wall in Dinkelsbühl
The group gathering to leave Dinkelsbühl
Crossing Wörnitz Fluß as we left Dinkelsbühl and headed home

I had never been to Dinkelsbühl beforehand, and had only done some light reading on the town, but was absolutely blown away by its beauty. Located around 50 kilometers south of Rothenburg, the two cities share much in common. It is part of the Romantic Road mentioned earlier, and largely consists of similar medieval architecture and walls. Similarly to Rothenburg, Dinkelsbühl remained remarkably unscathed during the Allied campaign in WWII. The only recorded exception was a broken window in Münster Sankt Georg, which is nothing short of a miracle in the eyes of the city. The town was a lot of fun to explore, and going in without any preconceptions was somewhat freeing. I was able to break off with my small group and discover wholly new squares, buildings, towers, and walls. The Wörnitz Fluß, which runs along the exterior of the city walls, forms a beautiful and natural barrier between the Altstadt and the newer ‘suburbs.’ I found a wonderful café to sit and enjoy a hot cup of kaffee (the number 1 drink in all of Deutschland) as the river flowed on and the city busted quietly around me. Before long, it was time to regroup and start the trip back to Heidelberg. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring two cities which were so different in pace and size than Heidelberg, as it lent me a fresh perspective on the German country. Traveling throughout Europe has always been one of my favorite activities, and I will continue to take advantage of my proximity to such wonderful cities throughout the remainder of my stay.